A vital lifeline to visually impaired

The Talking Newspaper, a service of Shetland Library, is a free, weekly service that transforms the written word into spoken prose allowing users to keep abreast of all goings on.The small team includes a mix of experienced and newer volunteers who not only read the paper but also record it on to USB sticks, duplicate the recordings and send them out in the post.

Recent recruit Jennie Atkinson, said: “For those of us who can, it is so easy to reach for a book, magazine, newspaper, iPad and read whenever and whatever we like. I have always been very conscious of not taking this for granted.

“When I heard the Talking Newspaper were looking for new volunteers I decided to put myself forward. It is quite intense reading, but fun, and I have found I am definitely reading parts of the paper that I wouldn’t normally read.”

Two-year volunteer Deirdre Hayward added: “I felt it was a really useful and valuable thing to do. Eyesight is so precious, and losing it such a hard thing to experience. Anything which can help in such situations has to be very important.

“Being involved in the Talking Newspaper has made me realise just how important sharing news and information in our close-knit community is.”

The process begins early Friday morning, the day of publication of The Shetland Times, with a recording session in a small studio under the library.

Support service librarian Catherine Jeromson explained: “They take The Shetland Times to the studio and they have a format of what they will read from the paper such as front page, isles notes, letters page and so on. It’s about a three hour recording process.”

The weekly service not only informs the users, but volunteer readers also report discovering events or columns they would have ordinarily skipped past.

Reader Marion Ockendon, said: “Yes, I definitely wouldn’t have read Shetland Life, so I found a lot of interest in that. Many of the pieces I read from the Shetland Times I probably would have ignored, such as ‘A Sporting Chance’.”

Teacher Janice Armstrong added: “It’s been good for me as I have learned more and I really think it is a high quality local paper.

The Shetland Times has gone out of its way to be imaginative about the things people would be interested in and the articles that will grab the attention. I like that it is diverse.”

It can also challenge the volunteer readers, Ms Armstrong said, adding: “My impression is, in general, that people are very grateful for the service and have sometimes requested very particular special features such as The Whitrit.

“I have to say that for me that was problematic as I am not a Shetlander. He uses lots of Shetland phrases and I often find myself sounding quite ridiculous.”

Ms Atkinson agreed, adding that although she has lived in the isles for 40 years there will be “some laughter at my attempt at Shetland words”.

As vital as the service is during normal times, the Talking Paper took on greater import during periods of lockdown.

Ms Jeromson said: “During lockdown we managed to record it from home. Kaye Riise, the main librarian who oversees it, she managed to take the recording equipment home and she was posting it from her local post office, so it was one of the services that we actually managed to keep going through lockdown luckily because so many people were so appreciative of still having that.

“When people read The Shetland Times week after week after week and then lose their sight it is quite a big miss.

“Friday has always been The Shetland Times day and to have that taken away from you is quite traumatic and quite a big deal so people are very appreciative of the service.”

In addition to the weekly recordings certain segments of the paper, such as features on history or sporting chances, are read monthly in a special extra, magazine edition that has been running for a number of years.

Currently the talking paper team concentrate on local publications due to a number of factors, including time constraints and copyright considerations. There is however one strange exception.

Ms Jeromson said: “One of our volunteers is partially sighted himself and he comes in and does the duplication for us. He has an interest in railways so we actually do the Moors Lines quarterly publication which is all about Yorkshire’s rail lines.

“We put that out as well, but I think he is the only customer that gets it, but if there is anyone else interested in the Moors Line we could copy that and get that out to them.”

The team is always looking for additional volunteers to cover holidays and sickness or to expand the service and anyone interested in the scheme in any capacity should email shetlandlibrary@shetland.gov.uk or call 01595 743868.

Ms Ockendon said: “It’s very satisfying, once you get used to hearing your own voice when you check to see if a track has recorded. The staff are very helpful, so don’t be afraid of the computer side of things, you’ll soon get the hang of it.

“And, you learn a lot about Shetland you might otherwise have missed.”


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